05 November 2008

What did the voters really say?

Was yesterday's result a function of an acceptance of a new, liberal Democratic agenda advanced by Sen. Obama, or was it simply a rejection of the incompetence and failures that we've seen over the last eight years?

It's clearly the latter.

With all due respect, the Obama campaign was never about policies or ideas or a political platform. It was a movement. The man who I've derisively called "the Changemaker" ran on the same, tired Pelosi/Kerry/Dukakis platform that the Democratic Party has put forth for the better part of a generation and that voters have repeatedly rejected. He is much more Carter than Clinton.

Obama's campaign was about image and platitudes, and about the whole being more than the mere sum of the parts. As David Brooks so astutely noted in early October, the reverse was true of Sen. McCain's campaign: He probably had the more practical ideas, and likely, the policies that resonated with the majority of the population. But Team Maverick lurched haphazardly among themes and never seemed able to drive a consistent message. Team Hope enjoyed a monopoly on vagueries.

Yesterday, a well-reputed exit poll asked voters, among other things, to identify their partisan affiliation. Forty-four percent of voters identified themselves as "moderate," about a third "conservative," and less than a quarter identified themselves as "liberal." This indicates to me that the country remains center-right, or at least firmly moderate. And it also indicates to me that Obama -- who ran in every way as the anti-Bush and attempted to tie the president around McCain's neck at every turn -- successfully made this election a referendum on the Bush administration. 

Sen. Obama is a smart man. His chief strategist, David Axelrod, is a brilliant man. They seized upon this pervasive anti-Bush, anti-Republican sentiment among a center-right electorate and used it to bury the quintessential center-right candidate. The fact that Obama successfully ran as a middle-class tax cutter and talked of fiscal discipline is a damning criticism of what the Republican Party (sans McCain, Coburn and a few others) has become: A corrupt (Stevens, Craig, Vitter, Delay, Cunningham, Abramoff ... need I go on?), incompetent (Rumsfeld), do-nothing (the 109th Congress), big government (the Bush administration generally) party. Just like with the Democrats in 1994, voters decided it was simply time to throw the bums out.

It thus can be said that George Bush beat John McCain twice -- once in the GOP primary in 2000, and again in the general election campaign in 2008.

What's most disappointing about this election to me is not that the Democrats have swept back into power, or that the Republican Party is in disarray, or even that a Republican candidate lost the race for the White House. It's about the Republican who lost. John McCain is an honorable man, an American hero, and his independent streak was exactly the tonic for what ails our country and our government. He's perhaps the most qualified candidate for the presidency that we'll ever see. Among the Senior Senator's many admirable qualities, his affinity for the hard challenge is perhaps his greatest asset. I'm genuinely disappointed for him. He deserved better.

It's bitterly disappointing that George Bush beat him again.


Anonymous said...

I am new to this blog and would like to commend your eloquent writing style and for your unwavering political views even if they clash somewhat with mine. I've never considered myself to be anything more than a casual observer when it comes to politics and don't have allegiance to either party. I like to call myself an Independent and my political views are extremely moderate. My philosophy when stepping into the voting booth is to select the best person regardless of the party. Now that I have recently entered the work-force, maybe I have grown-up and realized that I need to care about where my hard-earned tax dollars are going. For whatever reason, this election piqued my interest for a number of reasons. On Tuesday morning, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama.

I’m not going to get into all the reasons of why I voted for Obama instead of Sen. John McCain. However, I would like to point out that the excuses you make for McCain’s defeat and the reasoning behind Obama’s victory is weak. I get your affinity to McCain. He is a likeable guy. He is an American hero from his years spent as a POW. From a political standpoint, he has admirably served his country as a United States Senator. His qualifications undoubtedly warranted the Republican nomination.

While, it’s certainly reasonable to infer that the shortcomings of the Bush Administration are largely to blame for our country being in such a predicament, it’s unreasonable to conclude this as the ONLY reason why the majority of Americans chose Obama over McCain. I don’t doubt that some votes were cast in Obama’s favor for this very reason, but let’s not ignore the weaknesses of McCain’s campaign. McCain made a huge gaffe in selecting as Sarah Palin as running mate. This choice was just a gimmick to appeal to female voters. Was this selection and indication of his decision-making abilities or was it more of a last-ditch effort to seize the presidency? What about McCain’s weak plan to rescue the economy? Seeing as how the economy was widely seen as the #1 issue surrounding this election, you don’t think that had anything to do with his eventual defeat? I won’t even get into McCain’s support of the war and how unpopular this subject has become to the American people. It is na├»ve to think none of that mattered and that none of that factored into voter’s minds as they cast their ballots on Tuesday morning.

What about Obama? Did he just win by default? You keep pointing out that his campaign lacked policies, ideas or a political platform. If his campaign lacked policies, why are Republicans so quick to point out his willingness to spend so much money on new programs? You mention the word “vagueries” over and over again, but what is so vague about the idea Americans wanting “change” and not much of the same? I can tell you that I do not want to re-live the past-8 years in American history. I’m guessing you don’t either. No one does. It’s obvious the mistakes Bush made in office, but it’s interesting to point out that McCain voted in accordance with his policies 90% of the time. And this self-proclaimed “Maverick” constantly stood up and challenged his party? Whoops. Obama’s “extremist” record that you keep referring to shows me that he strongly opposed Bush and his policies. From reading your blog, it sounds like you strongly opposed him too. Is this not a reason to vote FOR Obama? As for the same tired Democratic platform you mention, is this not same platform not put Clinton into office? You don’t mention Gore either. In fact, you fail to mention 4 of the last-5 Democratic Presidential nominees, but you DO list Dukakis who lost in a landslide to one of the more popular presidents in the last hundred years, Ronald Reagan (incumbent) some 20 years ago! You offer “nice” words by saying you “hope” Obama governs more like Clinton and less like Carter, but in a post dated the exact same day, pronounce Obama IS, in fact, more like Carter. Huh? What did Obama do in a span of a few hours as President-elect that warranted this change of heart? I can tell you what Obama HAS done as President-elect. Today he named Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. It’s interesting to note that Emanuel was a former top aid for; you guessed it, Bill Clinton! Further, you suggest you will be “placated” if Obama ever reaches across party lines. Well, rumor has it he is also going to bring GOP Senators Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar on-board. That would make a total of three republicans Obama has reached out to—more Republicans than days he has been President-elect. Interesting.

What Obama does in four short years, or perhaps less, will dictate his success or failure as our 44th President. In that time, will he solve all of America’s problems? Probably not. Will he cross party lines and reach across the aisle? Who knows. Will he govern more like Clinton or more like Carter? Time will tell, but what will be most-telling is how Americans vote when Obama again runs as the Democratic nominee for President in 2012. Until then, keep an open mind. What’s done is done.

The Commissioner said...

Thanks for your comments. I hope you keep coming back. My partner in crime, the Chairman, has been noticeably absent. I can't take up every single one of your arguments, but here's a response to a few of them.

Sen. Obama ran a movement, and did not make his campaign about ideology or seek a partisan mandate. He ran a centrist campaign, while more quietly pushing things you see on his website, such as a trillion in new spending. It was time to "throw the bums out," as the GOP has failed spectacularly.

You impliedly ask whether I approve of the Bush administration. Being fiscally conservative and socially moderate/apathetic, no I don't. I could list another half-dozen issues off the top of my head where I break from it, in addition to the others noted yesterday.

McCain clearly is not Bush. The two men have been at odds for the better part of a decade, and represent completely separate wings of the party. Do they agree on many things? Of course. Both style themselves conservative in some way or another. But McCain's rating from the American Conservative Union in 2007? Sixty-five. He was rated by National Journal as the 48th-most conservative member of the Senate last year. He has spent his years in the Senate kicking the base in the teeth, crossing the aisle and infuriating the base. This guy never left -- Gang of 14, immigration reform, etc. -- and his only real difference between 2000 and 2008 was not his ideology, but rather the fact that many Bush/Cheney operatives joined his ranks.

The reason Obama won is the same reason that the GOP swept into power in 1994 -- voters decided it was time for a change. The Bush administration and its congressional allies failed spectacularly. McCain was the only Republican who stood a chance, and he fought valiantly. I don't criticize Obama for this, no more than I could criticize Reagan for launching the conservative movement under the "morning in America" banner in 1980.

The Commissioner said...

Responding to a few more of your comments:

I supported the selection of Gov. Palin in late August. However, I believe she was mishandled, shielded from the media to a laughable extreme, and proved to be clearly uninformed on major national and international issues. This mishandling allowed her to be turned into a caricature. She was equally as qualified for the office she sought as Sen. Obama: That is, not very.

Although she excited "the base" (trust me, I will have much more on "the base" in a later post), she clearly alienated many in the middle who were intrigued by McCain's independence. I'll concede that, at least vis-a-vis the undecideds, she was largely a liability. Whether the electoral trade-off between undecideds who broke for Obama and an energized base was worth it is almost impossible to measure. As one who tends to visualize the GOP as a large-tent party, I don't like the idea of anything that turns off centrists.

If you re-read my prior posts, I do not make any claims that the McCain team ran a perfect campaign. To the contrary, it lurched haphazardly among topics after the markets collapsed. I think that given McCain's impressive array of economic advisers -- beginning with Gov. Romney and Carly Fiorina -- a McCain administration would have handled the economic crisis adeptly. However, McCain's response to the crisis too often was "earmarks" or "wasteful spending." He just didn't sound like he knew what he was talking about, or sound like he much cared about economic issues before it was too late.

In terms of the Democratic platform, no, Obama's platform is not the platform that Clinton became successful on. Clinton was a centrist, and two highlights of his administration were "ending welfare as we know it" in 1996 and balancing the budget in 1997. He also was a deregulator, a free trader, and he put Al Gore in charge of slashing the federal bureaucracy.

The reason I supported McCain was, in part, because of that instinct for the hard challenge that he has -- I believe that the next president faces enormous challenges that will require an ability to work across the aisle, and to this point in his short senatorial career, Sen. Obama has not shown an ability to do that on anything of substance.

Finally, I do commend Sen. Obama for floating a trial balloon to Sen. Lugar. If I see the likes of Powell, Chafee or Paulson in an Obama administration, I will be pleased. However, I'm far from thrilled about Obama tapping Rahm Emanuel, long reputed to be a brass-knuckles partisan, despite his prior work with the Clintons.